Wednesday, October 18, 2017
King-Drew: Retrospective on Systemic Negligence
By Larry Aubry (Columnist)
Published January 22, 2009

The following Urban Perspective (9/29/06) offers some insight on the shoddy leadership and lack of accountability that led to MLK hospital's demise. Its service area, the poorest in LA county, is desperately in need of a full service hospital.

"Talk has been cheap at King/Drew Medical Center (KDMC). From its beginning, the hospital and non-profit teaching affiliate, Charles R. Drew University of Medicine and Science, received mostly empty expressions of support. The County Board of Supervisors, Department of Health Services (DHS), elected officials-none provided assistance consistent with their rhetoric of concern for KDMC.

A paucity of political will and systemic neglect fostered a general lack of accountability and failure to enforce policies or performance standards that created a culture of mediocrity and non-compliance at King hospital, but few said or did anything about it.

The Board of Supervisors has primary responsibility for King Hospital, and Supervisor Yvonne Braithwaite Burke, whose district includes KDMC, repeatedly dropped the ball. Her leadership on major issues at the hospital was reprehensible, a disservice to patients and constituents alike.

The Department of Health Services (DHS) regularly professed d support for KDMC, but just as often exacerbated conditions by denying or soft- peddling pressing policy and personnel issues.

The Board of Supervisors hired Navigant a consulting firm to evaluate and correct problems at King Hospital. Navigant accomplished virtually nothing but received millions of dollars for its efforts. Its inept, exorbitantly costly performance was another indicator of the Board of Supervisors' wrong- headed decisions relating to King Hospital. Did the hospital's alleged "intractable" problems (and staff) mitigate justify Navigant's wasting tax payers money? Of course not.

Drew University of Medicine and Science, in some respects, also was dysfunctional. However, unlike King, it is a non-profit organization that served as the hospital's teaching arm. But nepotism and phantom standards plagued Drew's effectiveness. Unlike King, Blacks have always been in charge at Drew which did not preclude a general lack of accountability.

Congresswoman Juanita Millender-McDonald eventually surfaced and called a meeting to "update the community" on the aftermath of King/Drew's failed inspection by the U.S. Centers for Medicare and Medicaid Services (CMS). (As a result, $200 million was cut off by the end of the year.) The meeting devolved into a microcosm of the diverse perspectives and feelings that characterize the hospital's unjust odyssey.

Comments at the meeting ranged from thin optimism, "We're all working together now… and we will bring in the experts," to the pent\\up, explosive anger of Black community health advocate, Dr. Ernie Smith, Ph.D. who conveyed his (and many others) dissatisfaction with being repeatedly disrespected or ignored by the Board of Supervisors and DHS. (Supervisor Burke did not attend, but sent a statement indicating she was "committed to maintain full quality service at King Hospital……..")

Antoinette Smith-Epps, Chief Administrator, King Hospital, claimed the Board of Supervisors plans to proceed "openly". Susan Kelly, President Drew University, said, "We need courage, calm and originality-we will continue to prosper." Their comments were more of the same plastic rhetoric.

Many of KDMC's problems were perpetuated by what some felt was a conspiracy of neglect and silence. From the top down, those in positions of authority saw things that needed to be fixed, but did nothing. Media, the L.A. Times in particular, was hell-bent on casting King hospital as beyond redemption. The Navigant fiasco only illuminated the Board of Supervisors' inept complicity. Public officials' platitudes such as "We need, (rely upon)the experts" only masked the essentially worthless role experts played in objectively assessing conditions at King.

A few positives emerged: The public was better informed (despite the usual photo-op hounds masquerading as legitimate community representatives), broader discussion about KDMC ensued, strategies to," Save King," were developed, and there was a growing consensus that King must continue as a full service facility.

Racism, nepotism, double standards, lack of accountability, gross neglect etc., all contributed to the Hospital's problems and must be given sufficient weight in planning for its future. Otherwise, these key elements will go unattended and people most in need will continue to suffer from chronic inadequate health care services."

MLK Hospital subsequently lost its accreditation and is operating as a shell, light years away from its mission to ensure quality health care for surrounding communities. Fortunately, restoring MLK to full service status is a top priority for newly-elected County Supervisor, Mark Ridley-Thomas. He is committed to a comprehensive, results and community oriented hospital and that augurs well for accountability and sustainable positive change at King hospital which have not been priorities for the County in recent memory.

Larry Aubry can be contacted at e-mail:

Categories: Larry Aubry

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